Omaha philanthropist Rachel Gallagher decades ago worked to save and establish some of the city’s most renowned public parks. With a donation from her family’s charitable foundation, Gallagher’s grandchildren hope to continue her legacy.
The Gallagher Family Foundation has donated $1.2 million to the Omaha Parks Foundation for renovations and improvements to Gallagher Park in Benson.
Planned improvements include a new playground, renovations and additions to the park’s public pool, a new splash pad, new restrooms and renovations to the Memorial Fountain Plaza.
The family’s donation will help make an important impact on the park and community, said Matt Kalcevich, director of the City of Omaha Parks, Recreation and Public Property Department.
Conversations between the two foundations about the donation began last fall.
“They are a lovely family, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them,” Kalcevich said. “I’m incredibly thankful for the trust they’ve put in us and the contribution they’ve made.”
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The donation is a fitting tribute to one of Omaha’s fiercest public park advocates, Gallagher’s family said.
Gallagher in the mid-1940s led a fundraising campaign to purchase privately owned Krug Park and donate it to the City of Omaha. In 1955, the public park was named in her honor.
Today, Gallagher Park is made up of nearly 19 acres of green space just west of Benson High School.
With the Gallagher Foundation’s donation, park officials envision a new playground, a picnic shelter and a half-court basketball area near the park’s south end.
The park’s public swimming pool will be updated with a spiral slide and new water features. A splash pad, free to use, will be built between the pool and playground with a new restroom building nearby.
Sidewalks around the park are to be connected to complete a pedestrian friendly walking loop. Kalcevich is in conversations with the city’s Public Works Department on additional traffic and pedestrian safety features.
Upgrades to Gallagher Park’s baseball and softball fields are not part of this renovation, but park officials are in talks with potential donors who could help with improvements to the athletic fields, Kalcevich said.
The entire project will be broken into three phases. Parks officials hope to have it completed in 2024.
“This is a great investment in the community,” said Tiffany Regan, executive director of the Omaha Parks Foundation. “And this is an example of what we can do with the public’s help.”
Created in 2010, the parks foundation is a nonprofit governed by a board of directors. It operates independently of the city and, among other priorities, aims to inspire enthusiasm among Omaha residents and support improvements to the park system.
“The family is so excited about this,” Regan said. “They have such a deep love for their grandmother.”
The planned renovations are changes Gallagher would be proud of, said two of her granddaughters, Jean Creighton Bell and Kathy Creighton.
Besides her advocacy for Krug Park, Gallagher was key in saving a portion of Elmwood Park from being used for University of Nebraska at Omaha parking.
In 1971, Gallagher and three other people filed a lawsuit against the city and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents over their plans for parking at Elmwood Park, near the UNO campus.
The legal battle ended in Gallagher’s favor.
Gallagher died in 1977 at age 87. “I never met a woman who had so many ideas. She was the protector of parks. And she would battle,” former city parks manager Joseph Churchich told The World-Herald after her death.
Gallagher believed that communities need public green space to thrive, Kathy Creighton said.
“She truly believed people needed space to grow and to breathe and to be free,” Creighton said.